Xcel Energy Archives - Colorado Politics

Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirOctober 16, 201711min384
Most politicians hope to come across as ordinary folk. Fairly few succeed. Lois Tochtrop — a now-retired, long-serving member of Colorado’s General Assembly from Thornton — never really had to try. It always seemed to come naturally to her. The horseback-and-Harley-riding former nurse served in the state House and then the Senate from 1999 through […]

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William YeatmanWilliam YeatmanSeptember 25, 20177min12370

Xcel Energy recently announced that it would use Governor John Hickenlooper’s July executive order calling for climate change policy as reason to bypass the Colorado state legislature and seek regulatory approval of a “Colorado Energy Plan,” which would retire early almost 700 megawatts of coal-fired generating units to be replaced with a new natural gas plant and also renewable energy.


Paula NoonanPaula NoonanSeptember 8, 20174min3670

A recent poll conducted by Chris Keating of Keating Research, a polling and survey firm that consults primarily for Democrats including Gov. John Hickenlooper and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, reveals that Colorado’s political environment parallels the nation’s, but preferences on energy issues are distinctly Coloradan.  The results come from 605 active voters, with a margin of error at 4 percent, plus or minus.

As with the country as a whole, Coloradans hold President Donald Trump at 40% favorable to 58% unfavorable, and give Gov. John Hickenlooper a 60% favorable to 32% unfavorable rating.  Numbers are more contrasting at the Very Unfavorable level, with 51% Very Unfavorable for Trump and 19% Very Unfavorable for Hickenlooper.

Since Keating works mostly for the left side of the aisle, it’s important to look at his call list.  He called 48% men and 52% women.  His age range was 18-24 at 10% up to 70+ at 15%.  Voters with children age 18 or younger comprised 27% of the sample and the split by party affiliation was 25% Democrat, 26% Republican, and 45% Independent. Colorado’s active voter registration actually divides almost equally at 32% Dem to 32% GOP to 36% Unaffiliated.

Happily, the survey shows that 64% of Coloradans think the state is headed in the “right direction” with 28% favoring the down side.

The poll’s main purpose was to explore voter commitment to four energy types as sources for development: coal, wind, solar and natural gas.  It sought especially to pinpoint voters’ views on what energy sources should increase or decrease in use.  Coloradans now have a dim view of coal, with 57% of respondents saying its use should decrease and only 18% choosing to increase its use.  Wind (+76%) and especially solar (+84%) showed the most support for increased use, with natural gas at +36%.

The survey suggests that Coloradans from both political parties want public utilities to collaborate on reducing carbon emissions: 89% agree/11% disagree.  Voters want the state to work with utilities to increase the use of clean renewable energy at 95% agree/5% disagree.  Almost 50% of voters support increasing the state’s 30% renewable energy standard to over 50%.  Most Coloradans (83%) want to take control of their energy future without waiting for the federal government to jump in.

The polling numbers indicate that Xcel’s recent decisions to add more renewable energy to its portfolio makes sense.  Closing coal plants is apparently generally acceptable to Coloradans.

Clearly, renewable solar and wind power are popular. Natural gas is holding its own despite opposition to drilling from some cities along the northern Front Range.

These results have implications for the 2018 governor and legislator races on both Democratic and Republican sides.  Democratic candidates can feel comfortable promoting more renewables.  The effect of fracking vs. anti-fracking positions on voter preference is less clear.

Republicans face a different picture in the primaries and general election.  Anti-climate change Republicans may be in sync with a majority in their party during the primary season.  But that position is deeply out of sync with a majority of voters who will cast ballots in the general election.

One other interesting set of data.  While 45% of the polled population identified as independent voters, only 25% viewed themselves as moderates.  These individuals were outnumbered by liberals at 34% and conservatives at 38%. It appears there’s a muddy middle spectrum of voters, a minority, who support reduced-carbon energy policy.  They will make a difference in how the general election turns out.


Peter MarcusPeter MarcusAugust 30, 20175min2280

State Republicans are concerned with a plan floated by Xcel Energy on Tuesday that would retire two coal-fired generation units in Pueblo, while adding renewable energy.

Xcel filed a request supported by 14 groups asking the Colorado Public Utilities Commission to approve a plan that would lead to $2.5 billion in clean energy investments in rural Colorado, according to a news release announcing the proposal.

The so-called “Colorado Energy Plan” would promote a “widely supported electricity generating portfolio” to augment Xcel’s current plans.

The utility promised not to increase the cost of energy to its customers. In the last four years, the average electric bill for Xcel Energy’s Colorado residential customers decreased by 6 percent. The proposal would keep Colorado electricity costs for consumers “low and predictable,” Xcel said in the news release.

Xcel plans a request for proposal targeting a mix of utility and independent power producers, with the utility having a targeted investment of 50 percent of the renewable generation.

Portfolio estimates are up to 1,000 megawatts of wind, up to 700 megawatts of solar, and up to 700 megawatts of natural gas.

The utility would file a recommended portfolio with the Public Utilities Commission in the first quarter of 2018; a final decision on the recommended portfolio is expected in the summer of 2018.

“We have a responsibility to meet our customers’ energy needs. Our customers expect us to provide low-cost power and increase the use of cleaner energy,” said David Eves, president of Xcel Energy in Colorado. “As the state’s largest utility, it is important to us that we also support rural areas in Colorado, and this proposal’s investment will accomplish this goal.”

Eves said the proposal could increase renewable energy to 55 percent by 2026, while saving customers money and reducing pollution. Carbon emission could be reduced by up to 60 percent by 2026 over 2005 levels, Xcel said.

Xcel’s contribution of renewables currently stands at around 29 percent.

Colorado has a renewable energy standard of 30 percent by 2020, which Xcel has repeatedly said it is on track to surpass. At least two Democratic gubernatorial candidates have proposed a 100 percent renewable energy standard of 100 percent by 2040.

The two coal-fired generation units that would be retired are located at the Comanche Generating Station in Pueblo.

State Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee, reminded Xcel that Republicans rejected a similar proposal in the legislature.

“Renewable energy providers in Colorado already profit from a wide variety of special preferences and handouts, including some of the highest renewable energy mandates in the country, but apparently that’s not enough for one utility, which is pulling a bit of a fast one by going to the PUC for something it couldn’t get passed through the legislature last session,” Sonnenberg said in a statement.

“This proposal didn’t fly at the statehouse because Republicans don’t believe it’s in the interest of Colorado energy consumers to shut down our most affordable and dependable power plants, while subsidizing expansion of unreliable, not-ready-for-primetime alternatives. We keep hearing that renewable energy has finally come of age and can compete with traditional power providers on a level playing field, yet when push comes to shove, they’re always coming back for more handouts and special preferences, which come at ratepayer or taxpayer expense.”

Xcel was joined by a diverse coalition in announcing the proposal, including pro-renewable energy groups.

“Today’s filing starts a conversation about how Colorado will transition to the clean energy economy of tomorrow,” said Erin Overturf, chief energy counsel for Western Resource Advocates, a Boulder-based conservation group dedicated to clean energy.

Supporters called the proposal an “historic opportunity to take advantage of renewable-generated electricity… at historically low prices, while investing in good-paying jobs and cleaner air.”

“If approved, the commission will have an opportunity to evaluate transitioning our power production away from coal and toward less expensive clean renewable resources,” Overturf said. “Taking advantage of these low cost options now would reduce customers’ bills, while improving air quality and reducing greenhouse gas pollution that causes climate change.”


Joey BunchJoey BunchJuly 25, 20177min2911
Garcia v. Black Hills Energy
Black Hills Energy company logo.

Updated: Julie C. Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for Black Hills Energy, got back to us with a response to Sen. Leroy Garcia’s withering view of the company’s rate-hike request. Here it is (with the original story below).

“In short, the Phase 2 filing is not a request for a rate increase, it is simply a plan to appropriately allocate among customer groups the revenue that was approved by the PUC in December 2016 (and implemented on January 1, 2017) as part of our Phase 1 filing,” she said. “The proposed Phase 2 changes to customer bills must be approved by the PUC and are revenue-neutral, meaning they would not result in any additional revenue for Black Hills Energy. We expect any changes in bills associated with this filing will not become effective until March 2018. Through smart meter data, we found that residential customers, making up 90 percent of Black Hills Energy customers, are responsible for more energy use than is recovered in their current rates. As a result, other customer groups, like business customers, have been paying a disproportionally greater share of the cost of service. This prompted the proposed changes to customer groups.”


Sen. Leroy Garcia is infuriated that energy customers in southern Colorado face a rate hike, when they already pay some of the highest rates in the state.

In the last session, Garcia asked to create a legislative committee to hold public meetings before the next session to evaluate Black Hills Energy rate increases, but Republicans shot down the proposal on a party-line vote.

The Democratic senator from Pueblo is riled up that South Dakota-based Black Hills is asking the state Public Utilities Commission for a package of rate hikes to pay for a gas-fired generator in Pueblo. That facility replaces a coal-fired plant in Cañon City, which closed in 2012 under pressure for clean-air advocates. Part of the reason for the high cost — and The Washington Post in 2014 noted there were several — is Colorado’s Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act, which passed the legislature easily with bipartisan support in 2010.

Black Hills wants to create tiered rates for customers who use higher amounts of energy, similar to the summertime rates charged by Xcel Energy. Black Hills, which powers 52 southern Colorado communities, also wants to raise its minimum monthly residential rate from $16.89 to $20.13. The minimum charge covers fixed cost such as a connection, meter and billing to extend service to a home, separate from the amount of energy used in the home.

Net-metered solar customers could pay up to 50 percent more. The utility is asking for a monthly charge of $25.45 to recover the cost of a second meter, which measures solar energy production, as well as a higher energy use charge.

“Energy to cool our homes, heat them during the winter, keep our rooms lit, and cook our meals is a basic need that shouldn’t be held hostage by a big corporation trying to line its pockets with mysterious fees,” Garcia said in a statement Monday afternoon.

“Coming out of a legislative session of pushing back against rate increases, it is especially insulting to see Black Hills try to get rate increases and new fees tacked onto energy bills when they think no one is looking. The PUC needs to think long, and very hard, before they consider rate increases and new fees that will stretch the budgets of hard-working people and their families even thinner.”

Garcia sponsored Senate Bill 105, signed into law in May, to make monthly bills from investor-owned utilities (namely Black Hills and Xcel) easier for everyday folks to understand, including line-item billing  and easier-to-grasp visual elements about energy use each month.

He also co-sponsored House Bill 1323 to prevent anyone who had a recent affiliation with a regulated utility from serving on the Public Utilities Commission. The bill died in the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee on a 4-1 vote on May 4.

Garcia noted that Wendy Moser, a former lawyer for Black Hills Energy, was appointed to the PUC in January.

The rate hikes are part of the utility’s effort to recoup the cost of the new generating station. After examining costs the Public Utilities Commission lowered the amount Black Hills could recoup from ratepayers from $8.5 million to $636,267. Black Hills has appealed that amount to the courts.

The PUC could hold a hearing to accept or adjust the proposed package of rate increases or ask administrative law judge to hold the hearing and consider the judge’s recommendation, but that decision hasn’t been made yet, said Cindy Schonhaut, the director of the Colorado Office of Consumer Counsel.

The PUC will take public comments until at least November, depending on when the hearing is set.
Comments can be emailed to dora_PUC_complaints@state.co.us, or mailed to 1560 Broadway, Suite 250, Denver, CO 80202.


Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirMay 18, 20175min1650

Citing unnamed sources, the Independence Institute’s Amy Oliver Cooke asserts in a blog post that Gov. John Hickenlooper has an ulterior motive in talking up a possible special session: He wants to promote wind power on a massive scale. And he wants to throw the keys to behemoth public utility Xcel Energy, Colorado’s largest power provider.

According to her blog post, that was supposed to have been accomplished during the regular 2017 session that concluded last week. The vehicle, Cooke writes, was going to be an amendment inserted into a bill introduced late in the game, Senate Bill 301, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Ray Scott of Grand Junction.

On its face, that bill involved a sweeping reconfiguration of the much-debated Colorado Energy Office and also included a provision that would have permitted investor-owned utilities to own natural gas reserves. The bill got mired in late-session politics and was scuttled in the end amid tit-for-tat pushing and shoving between Scott’s Republican-run Senate and the Democratic-controlled House.

So, the special session would pick up where the originally intended effort left off, Cooke writes. SB 301’s natural gas provision was the tip of the iceberg, she seems to think:

Sources tell me that Governor John Hickenlooper really wants the state legislature to anoint in statute Xcel’s big plans for industrial wind, and he is trying to get the oil and gas industry to support it as well, likely because natural gas is the preferred back-up generation for industrial wind.

The amendment that got left dangling — Cooke reprises it in full in her blog post — “was written specifically for or by Xcel Energy and its pending Electric Resource Plan (ERP), which was predicated on a Hillary Clinton victory and the continuation of the controversial and costly Clean Power Plan.”

She continues:

“… this language blesses Xcel to build and majority own industrial wind and natural gas back up, build and own all of the infrastructure, and pass all the costs along to ratepayers. It would complete the process of converting Xcel from pig to hog status.

Cooke, who is the libertarian-leaning institute’s executive V.P. and heads its Energy Policy Center, is a frequent critic of Minneapolis-based Xcel and other investor-owned public utilities given their status as regulated monopolies. Independence and other critics of the system don’t like how it uses Public Utilities Commission-granted rate hikes in part to subsidize the transition to what the critics contend are costlier alternative energy sources like wind and solar power.

We reached out to Hickenlooper Press Secretary Jacque Montgomery for a comment on Cooke’s assertions. She followed up with this response — neither a confirmation nor an explicit denial:

The Governor has shared what his top issues are when considering a special session:  infrastructure and health care.   At his end-of-session news conference, he called out these as well as the funding for the energy office.

Here’s the link again to Cooke’s blog post.